What makes for a good meeting? It depends on the purpose, right?
- Some meetings are designed to dispense information—like a press conference or university lecture. It’s okay if the attendees are passive. If the information gets out there, the meeting fulfilled its purpose.
- Some meetings are designed for interaction—town hall meetings or brainstorm sessions. If there is no discussion, the meeting was a failure.
- Still other meetings are designed to build and strengthen relationships—wedding showers and family reunions. If you hear great conversations, stories told, memories shared and constant laughter, mission accomplished.
What about church? What makes a good meeting of the church? What is our purpose for meeting? Dispense information? Create discussion? Build relationships?
Are you willing to do some serious evaluation? Think about the meetings of your church. Have you ever asked, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Better question: What are the Biblical purposes for church gatherings? How could you measure whether you accomplished those purposes? If you found that you weren’t accomplishing the Biblical purposes for church meetings, would you be willing to change?
In order to do church according to the way of Christ and His Apostles, we need to look closely at the New Testament—specifically at the meetings of the early church. Passages like Acts 2:42-47 and 20:1-7. Chapters like Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3.
As I’ve done this kind of study, I’m convinced of this fact: There was a direct connection between the meetings of the early church and the strength of the early church. In other words, the way they met mattered. It led directly to their strong fellowship as a family of families, as well as their ability to expand rapidly and stay strong.
So, the next logical question is: What did those meetings look like exactly?
Basically, they were simple…
- They met mostly in homes (but not necessarily)
- They met on Sunday evenings
- They gave everyone the opportunity to use his or her gifts to help edify the church
- They shared a full meal while celebrating the Lord’s Supper
- An equipped and gifted teacher led a discussion of the Apostles’ teaching
- They took up a collection to support the expansion of the gospel
Did they meet this way because they couldn’t afford church buildings? Because they were under persecution and had to meet “underground”? These are common misunderstandings.
The early church met this way because it was the best way to accomplish the desired purposes. For example, look at Hebrews 10:24-25:
“24 And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
What was the purpose of “assembling”? “Stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” Can that happen in a meeting where one person speaks and everyone else is sitting quietly or even passively? Perhaps—though the “one another” part is lost. But, what about an environment where there is interaction and discussion—where each believer has the opportunity to use his or her gifts to “stimulate” and “encourage”? This is the environment the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote this command because that’s how the churches “assembled” at that time.
Look also at 1 Corinthians 14:26:
26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
What was the purpose of “assembling”? The “edification” of the body. What were these “all things” that were to be done for edification? “Psalms, teachings, revelations, tongues and interpretation.” Let’s table the discussion of whether new revelations and tongues are being given today and focus on the main point: “Each one” must use whatever gift he has been given for “edification”. Can “each one” use his or her gifts in a traditional “assembly” of God’s people? Very unlikely. But it was possible in the assemblies—the meetings—of the first century church because of the format of their meetings.
Time was spent focused on the things that matter most: Edifying—building up—the church. Growing and helping others grow to maturity in Christ and leading others to faith in Christ. Developing the kind of fellowship and trust that led to life change. By the way, this is how the majority of churches meet in the parts of the world where the church is growing most rapidly—China, India, Africa, etc.
Meetings matter. If our purpose is to gather a large crowd, meeting in homes is a bad idea. If our purpose is to foster the kind of hospitable environment that leads to strong fellowship and strong expansion, then perhaps meeting in homes is ideal.
Make it a matter of prayer.
And ask yourself…
- Can we have both? Small groups in homes (for strong fellowship and expansion) and large group gatherings for other purposes? How will that effect expansion? Will most people participate in small groups if their idea of the church meeting is the large group gathering? Does the large group gathering tend to “stimulate” people to “love and good deeds” through “one another” relationships or does it tend to encourage passivity and anonymity?
- How does the large group gathering—which requires facilities and all the complexities that come with them—impact expansion? Does it fuel it? Does it hinder it?
- How does the mega-church model encourage or discourage the “saints to do the work of the ministry”? What about the many-church model?